Reviewed: November 14, 2011
Released: November 1, 2011
I didn't really know what to expect with Hydrophobia: Prophecy developed by indie game company Dark Energy. The original Hydrophobia was released on XBLA last year and was met with mixed reviews. This title has been referred to as Hydrophobia 1.5. They added a bunch more content and revisited the original content, trying to fix things that the original players had problems with. It is available on PSN for eight bucks and free with PSN plus and I will admit that my hackles were raised a little bit. I get a bit...edgy?...around cheap games nowadays, due to the fact that the quality of affordable indie games can vary wildly from the mundanely horrible to the inspirationally incredible. |
It didn’t take long, though, before I heaved a sigh of relief and was taken along by the world that the creators of the game place you in the middle of. It breathes with a life that exists outside of the direct game world you inhabit. And then, you find yourself holding that breath for long, long periods of time, as you fight against the constant, cascading torrents of water that permeate this game.
The meta-story is definitely one of the more creative and unique takes on a not-too-distant-future concept that is entirely plausible once you start thinking about it. Basically, the world has been overwhelmed by a “population flood” and you are part of the crew of a gigantic city-sized ship that roams the oceans of the world. Then on the eve of tenth anniversary celebrations, terrorists strike, disrupting the peaceful existence on board. You are then plunged (no pun intended...well, maybe a little) into attempting to wrestle control of the ship back from the terrorists.
Obviously, the title and the setting of the game suggest that water is a huge gameplay element (haha...that time, I really didn’t intend that pun, but it worked out anyway). Water, like fire, is something that game designers have struggled with modeling properly in games for a long time. Occasionally you’ll get cool ripple effects when your character will splash into water in games, but I can’t recall any other title that attempts to realistically model water on such a grand scale as this game.
Water is not a static entity in the real world, and neither is it in this game. It acts as you would expect water to act, and it does so dynamically. If you open a door from a room that is empty and the room on the other side is full, you will be swept back as a indomitable wave of water floods into the room. You can try to wade against its attempts at pushing you in all directions as the water sloshes around, or you can dive underneath and swim for it, though you will then have to keep an eye on your oxygen levels.
Fortunately, since you spend a lot time swimming, they did give you a considerable lungful of air to operate with. You won’t have to worry about drowning quite as rapidly as in some other games that allow you to explore underwater. You will still find yourself involuntarily holding your own breath, though, as you swim along submerged corridors hoping for a pocket of air to bring you temporary respite from the icy water.
The title implies a fear of water, but you’ll really develop a love-hate relationship with water in this game. You’ll love watching how it reacts to the various environmental changes that you and the ship impart upon it, and learning how to use it to your advantage to solve the various puzzles you encounter, but you’ll also learn to hate how powerless you are against it if you get trapped in its unyielding embrace.
There are quite a few other really cool gameplay elements that are all mixed together to create a pretty in-depth action-adventure involving some pretty out-of-the-box puzzle solving and platforming. One such element is the hacking. Usually having to hack consoles in games is just a crappy mini-game that merely serves to distract you from the main game. This game, however, uses a very cool device for defeating encrypted panels.
Your “Mavi” or futuristic PDA device that you can look at - and through - to complete various tasks in the game. It allows you to pull up CCTV camera views and remotely operate doors. It also allows you to see hidden cyphers left by the terrorists in some sort of invisible ink that is only seen on a spectrum that the Mavi can call up. Once you obtain the cyphers, you can then open encrypted doors. You may also be tasked with hacking the console directly, which involves aligning a resonance wave with that of the lock itself. This is done using your left and right sticks to stretch and contract your wave pattern with the other. It’s quite simple once you get the hang of it, but it is unique and fun enough that it doesn’t take you outside the feel of the game.
One of the few gameplay elements that annoyed me, which annoys me in any game that does it, is the game only saves through checkpoints. The only saving grace (there I go again) is that the checkpoints happen frequently enough that it doesn’t become problematic. The combat mechanics of the game are sometimes a little clunky and the AI of the enemies is a bit dumb, but you don’t spend a majority of your time fighting, so it doesn’t detract from the game on the whole.
The stealth and cover controls are fairly intuitive and the game really encourages you to avoid direct combat and seek out alternative methods for dispatching your opponents. You can get pretty creative with how you kill your enemies, blowing up environmental objects like barrels or fuse boxes, opening doors to raise water levels to the point where electricity zaps the unsuspecting foes, and more, which all give you bonus points, so you actually feel like you’re muddling through the game if you end up being forced into blasting at an enemy face-to-face.
Beyond the amazing water effects, the graphics are only slightly above average. They create an amazing backdrop against which the story of the game unfolds, placing you within a very detailed and well-thought-out environment. The character animations border on being clumsy, however, which detracts from the otherwise amazing feel of the game. The sound effects do the game justice, rounding out the sense-experience of the environments and characters. The voice acting, especially considering it is a relatively low-budget indie game, is above par (relatively speaking). I guess it helps that the main character has a pretty awesome accent, so that may cover up any acting flaws that may have otherwise been noticeable.
Overall, I feel that this game is well worth the $7.99 on PSN, or just a free download if you are a member of PSN Plus. The water physics alone are worth the experience. On top of that, however, you get a really engaging storyline with some unique puzzle solving and platforming that keeps changing up the gameplay enough that you don’t feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over again. This game is everything that I hope for from an indie developer: something that goes outside of the realm of what we have come to expect from the blockbuster developers to bring us something new and unique, pushing the boundaries of what we, as gamers, have come to understand as the rules of what a game can and cannot do.